Niobara

Via Daily Kos: A great post by PZ Myers about the Kansas evolution “debates”.

There is a geological formation in Kansas called the Niobrara Chalk. Actually, it’s not just in Kansas; it extends all the way up into Canada, but the Niobrara has been exposed by erosion over much of northwestern Kansas, making it easy to dig into.

Chalk is interesting stuff. It’s made of a mineral calcium carbonate, that is formed into the shells of microscopic, one-celled golden brown algae. These Chrysophyceae are photosynthesizing organisms that float in large numbers at the surface of the sea, gather sunlight for energy and scavenging calcium dissolved in the water to build their protective shells. They occasionally shed the the minute calcium plates, and when the plants die, their skeletons drift slowly downward. The seas have a slow, soft, invisible rain of tiny flecks of calcium carbonate that very, very slowly builds up at the bottom.

The Niobrara Chalk formation is 600 feet thick. The inescapable conclusion is that Kansas was under water during the age of the dinosaurs. During the Mesozoic, the world was warm and the oceans were at a high level, and the entire central part of North America was a great, shallow, inland sea, a warm soup rich in microorganisms that were busily living and dying and slowly accumulating into deep dense chalk beds on the bottom.

During the course of the hearings, the lawyer on the side of science, Pedro Irigonegaray, asked several of the witnesses for Intelligent Design creationism what they thought the age of the earth was. It’s a simple, straightforward question with a simple answer: about 4.5 billion years. The Intelligent Design creationists found it difficult. Some answers were ludicrous, such as Daniel Ely’s and John Sanford’s assertion that the earth was between 10 and 100 thousand years old. Others were evasive: Stephen Meyer and Angus Menuge refused to answer. Some of these “qualified witnessesâ€? were embarrassingly ignorant: William Harris could only say, “I don’t know. I think it’s probably really old.â€?. All of this is in line with the intellectually flaccid position of the godfather of the Intelligent Design movement, Phillip Johnson, who has bravely announced that “I have consistently said that I take no position on the age of the earthâ€?.

Mention “Niobraraâ€? to these people and their eyes will not light up. At best you might get dull-eyed incomprehension, and more likely you will see shifty-eyed evasion. Yet these are the characters who want to dictate the scientific content of our children’s educations. I swear, if there were any truth to their metaphysical codswallop, the shades of Cope and Marsh and the Sternbergs would have manifested in that courtroom to denounce them, and the floor would have cracked open beneath their feet to allow a spectral tylosaur to rise up and gulp them down.

There are greater truths in the stones of Niobrara than in the dissembling and ill-educated brains of the fellows of the Discovery Institute. We need to teach the evidence, not this phony, ginned-up controversy from a gang of poseurs and theocrats.

Read the whole article here.

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